What Started Me Thinking

  • "The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up." Mark Twain
  • “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." Luke 10:41-42
  • “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” Simone Weil
  • “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” Colette
  • “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” G. K. Chesterton
  • “A man’s first care should be to avoid the reproaches of his own heart.” Joseph Addison
  • “Best is good. Better is best.” Lisa Grunwald
  • “Order is Heaven’s first law.” Alexander Pope

Happiness Theories I Reject

  • Flaubert: "To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless."
  • Vauvenargues: “There are men who are happy without knowing it.”
  • Eric Hoffer: “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”
  • Sartre: "Hell is other people."
  • Willa Cather: “One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them…”
  • Alexander Smith: “We are never happy; we can only remember that we were so once.”
  • John Stuart Mill: “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”

Resolution: Cross a Finish Line.


A common happiness hurdle is the arrival fallacy. We think that we'll be happy once we arrive at some destination: a new job, a new apartment, a promotion, whatever. But often, arriving doesn't make us as happy as we expect.

That's very true, and I struggle to remember it, and also to remind myself of what my father says so often: "Enjoy the process." But this week I've also been reminding myself of one of my Secrets of Adulthood: the opposite of a profound truth is also true. Just as I should enjoy the process, and not wait for the happiness of crossing the finish line, I should also do the opposite, and revel in the happiness of crossing a finish line.

Too often, I don't take the time to experience the satisfaction that comes from finishing. I turn immediately to the next thing I need to do, or the next finish line I need to cross, without pausing for a little moment of triumph.

For instance, if all goes according to plan, next Monday will mark a giant finish line for me. I've been working for months on a major overhaul of this blog, and on Monday, you'll see the new and improved version. I hope you like it! It was an enormous undertaking, but I can already feel myself starting to think, "Okay, now time to tinker with the Happiness Project Toolbox," "Now I can focus on Pinterest," "I need to tackle that new stack of research," etc.

But--this will be an exciting moment. I want to appreciate it.

Enjoy the last few days of the current design! I should take some screenshots as mementos (except that, truth be told, I'm not exactly clear how to take a screenshot).

It's important not to expect too much happiness at the finish line, but I don't want to enjoy no happiness at the finish line. As Nietzche explained it: “The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable.”

Do you ever find yourself doing this: not taking a moment to enjoy crossing a finish line? It seems as though it would be so easy, but I find it difficult.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in —no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* I spent a lot of time checking out posts on The Hairpin--"Ladies first."

* If you're looking for a good book, please consider The Happiness Project (can't resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller).
Order your copy.

"People Are Happier When They're Adding Positive Energy To Their Networks."


Happiness interview: Reid Hoffman.

Years ago, when I was just starting to blog, one of the first people I met from blogland was Ben Casnocha, who wrote a great blog about entrepreneurship, books, and ideas, and who was still in college (if I remember correctly) at the time.

He does a lot of things and has a lot of interests, so I wasn't surprised to hear that he was teaming up to write a book with Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, the wildly popular social network particularly useful for business connections and job searching.

Their book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, just hit the shelves a few months ago and has generated a lot of buzz. It's about how to think about yourself as a start-up business: to invest in yourself, to build your networks, to take smart risks, to exploit uncertainty.

Thinking about the elements of a happy life is one aspect of doing a start-up based on yourself, so I was curious to hear what Reid had to say.

Gretchen What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Reid: Long conversations with friends about interesting ideas. And helping my friends solve important problems.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
What I realize now more clearly than before is that happiness comes in part from choosing what you stand for, and then living it. “This is who I am, these are my values.” And then building a network of friends whose values align with your own. Of course, who you are and what you stand for can change over your lifetime. Adaptation is a key idea in the The Start-up of You. So long as you’re tracking how you are changing and how the people around you are changing with respect to what matters, you’re good.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
One of my favorite quotes is from Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

It speaks to the importance of both taking care of yourself and taking care of others. In the book, we call this dynamic IWe. Your individual professional abilities – and arguably your individual happiness, too – get magnified by the network of folks around you. But just as zero to the 100thpower is still zero, if you individually lack skills or self-responsibility, no amount of help from others will matter.

The last part of the quote reinforces urgency: focus on the now. This is it.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
People are happier when they’re adding positive energy to their networks and to the environment they’re living in. Smiling, laughing: these simple things. Helping people makes you happy (and it’s also smart career strategy).

What I see detracting from happiness is when people are trying to benchmark and compare themselves to other people. It’s hard to overcome the instinct of upward comparison, but we should try.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
It’s said that making money and being successful won’t make you happy beyond a certain point. I’ve always believed that, but over the years it has been a bit surprising just how true that wisdom really is. I’m happy, but I can’t say I’m especially happier now than I was 15 years ago, even though I’m comparatively more successful today.

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What's Your Ten-Point Manifesto?


Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: Lists of manifestos.

I love a good manifesto. I love Bob Sutton's manifesto about work, and Madame X's manifesto about money, and Frank Lloyd Wright's manifesto for his apprentices.

Somehow, I'd never come across Google's Ten things we know to be true manifesto, and I found it very interesting.

The Google site explains, "We first wrote these 10 things when Google was just a few years old. From time to time we revisit this list to see if it still holds true. We hope it does—and you can hold us to that."

Focus on the user and all else will follow.
It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
Fast is better than slow.
Democracy on the web works.
You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
You can make money without doing evil.
There’s always more information out there.
The need for information crosses all borders.
You can be serious without a suit.
Great just isn’t good enough.

Very thought-provoking. Though people might disagree about whether Google lives up to its manifesto, it's nevertheless interesting to use it as a starting-point for discussion.

A few years ago, I wrote my own Happiness Manifesto, though I should probably re-visit it to see if I want to revise it.

Have you written a manifesto, a personal mission statement, or the like? What did you include? I think these kinds of exercises are very helpful, for gaining greater self-knowledge and identifying personal values.

* My friend Neil Pasricha, of the fabulous blog 1000 Awesome Things and bestselling book, The Book of Awesome, is counting down (you guessed it) 1000 awesome things, and tomorrow is #1! I'm very excited that he's completed his project, very curious to see what he'll do next, and a little sorry that I won't be able to read any more entries after tomorrow. You can check out his TED talk here.

* Are you reading The Happiness Project in your book group? Email me at [email protected] if you'd like the 1-page discussion guide. Or if you're reading it in your spirituality book group, Bible study group, or the like, email me at [email protected] for the 1-page spirituality discussion guide.

What's Your "Pigeon of Discontent"? Please Say!


Each week this year, I'm posting a video about some Pigeon of Discontent that a reader has raised in the comments. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we're also plagued by the Pigeons of Discontent.

These aren't the major happiness challenges that we face, but rather, those little nagging problems that settle into roost.

I'm constantly surprised by what a big happiness boost I can get from small changes. As Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible." Tackling small nuisances has a big influence on my day.

What Pigeon of Discontent is messing with you lately? Please post your suggestions below, as fodder for possible future videos. If you'd like to see previous Pigeon videos, you can find them here.

• Last night I has a lot of fun talking to Jenny Komenda of the terrific DIY and design blog, Little Green Notebook.

• Join the happiness conversation on Facebook and on Twitter (@gretchenrubin).


"Change, By Not Trying To Change."

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


* A writerly friend told me to check out Gwenda Bond's blog, on "books, writing, and etcetera," and I've spent waaay to much time there.

* Are you reading The Happiness Project in your book group? Email me at [email protected] if you'd like the 1-page discussion guide. Or if you're reading it in your spirituality book group, Bible study group, or the like, email me at [email protected] for the 1-page spirituality discussion guide.

Today's Resolution: Feel Grateful for the Basics.


For the last few days, I've been struggling with a very unstable computer (yes, this is apparently a technical term).

It seems to be behaving itself now, and I am so happy! I take my word-processer, my email, and my internet access for granted, but when they aren't available as easily as usual, I realize how much these tools add to my happiness and how much they contribute to my ability to work easily and smoothly.

One of the unhappy truths about human nature is that it's hard for us to appreciate what we have, until we lose it. When we lose something like electricity or running water, or worse, our health, then it's clear how mightily such things contribute to happiness and comfort.

In college, a friend told me about the “Lost Wallet Syndrome.” “No matter what’s happening in your life," he explained, "if you lose your wallet, you think, ‘How happy I would be if I would only find my wallet.’ But then, if you find it, you’re happy for about two minutes, and then you’re right back where you started.”

One of my aims with my happiness project is to appreciate what I have, while I still have it. I don't want to look back, after some loss or some catastrophe, and think, "How happy I was then, if only I'd realized it."

I have so much to be grateful for that it seems a bit preposterous that I need to remind myself to be grateful—but I do. When things are taking their ordinary course, it’s so easy to take everyday life for granted.

Every time I sit down at my computer, I think, "How happy I am to be back at my computer, doing the work I love." Now I've added a second part, "How happy I am to be at my computer, doing the work I love, on a computer that's working properly."

Do you find it hard to remember to appreciate the basics? What strategies do you use to keep yourself in a grateful frame of mind?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in —no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

● This week I had a very good time at lunch with Her Bad Mother—"Bad is the new good."

● If you're also looking for a good book, please consider The Happiness Project (can't resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller and on the bestseller list for more than a year, that's right, a year!).
Order your copy.
Read sample chapters.
Watch the one-minute book video.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.

"When I Feel Stuck or Stumped, I Go For a Stroll."


Happiness interview: Jonah Lehrer.

I'm a huge fan of Jonah Lehrer's work—and there's a lot of it, because he's insanely prolific—and I'm tremendously interested in the subjects he covers both in his books and in his writings for periodicals like the Wall Street Journal. I rushed out to read How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist, and I just got my hands on his brand-new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works (an instant New York Times bestseller).

His writing often touches on the issue of happiness, so I wanted to hear what he had to say.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Jonah: I'm a walker. When I feel stuck or stumped or stressed, I go for a stroll, the longer the better. The actual location doesn't really matter. I can derive equal satisfaction from the crush of pedestrians in Manhattan and the desolate landscape of the California desert. I like the beach and the hills, the cities and exurbs.

One of the pleasures of researching Imagine was getting scientific justification for this habit. The research suggests then when we are stumped by a problem, we should step away from the desk and caffeine and instead find a way to relax. The answer will only arrive after we stop searching for it. So while I used to assume that my walks were a form of procrastination, I now see them as part of my work day. They make me happy, which is an ideal mental state for moments of insight.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I've learned that happiness isn't just a hedonic state, that the happiness I'm chasing after transcends those squirts of dopamine that come from ice cream and fleeting pleasures. In fact, my favorite metaphor for happiness comes from marathons. (I don't run marathons, but I admire people who do!) If we surveyed a marathoner in the midst of the race, they'd almost certainly look miserable. They would complain about their legs and that nipple rash and how the route seems endless. But when the running is over, that same runner will be incredibly proud of their accomplishment—the ordeal has become a rich source of meaning. I'm a new parent and I sometimes wonder if having a kid works the same way. When people are quizzed about their moment-by-moment happiness, child-rearing is roughly equivalent to house cleaning, at least in terms of subjective pleasure. But our kids instantly become a profound source of happiness, even if that joy is hard to measure. (Having kids is a bit like a marathon that lasts 18 years.) So I guess I've learned that happiness is a richer, more complicated and ultimately more important subject that I used to assume. It's not just about chasing after pleasure. It's about finding ways to lead a meaningful life, even if that meaning sometimes involves moments of pain or challenge. [This from Gretchen: I agree, and I summarize this point with my Secret of Adulthood: Happy doesn't always make you feel happy.]

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Googling myself. I'm very jealous of writers who got to exist in a world before self-searching.

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy—if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
My happiness goes through natural swings, which are often connected to my work. When I'm in the midst of editing a draft—and it doesn't matter if I'm editing a book chapter or a magazine article—I'll feel my mood start to fall; a fog of melancholy sets in. Sometimes, I like to wallow in this state, so I'll actually turn on an iTunes playlist called "Depressing Love Songs." (In Imagine, I explore the surprising benefits of such moods, as numerous studies have shown that negative emotions can make people more attentive, persistent and vigilant.) However, when I'm beginning a new project, I'll often go through this period of mild elation, in which I'm embarrassingly excited to begin my work day. I love writing the first draft, feeling those connections click into place. What's interesting is that such positive moods comes with real cognitive benefits, which is why showing people a short video of Robin Williams doing stand-up can lead to a 20 percent boost in performance on a set of difficult creative problems.

Of course, it's only a matter of time before that first draft enters the editing cycle, at which point the mild sadness returns. Instead of enjoying the connections, I fixate on my mistakes. Such are the vicissitudes of my writing life.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t—or vice versa?
I think I used to assume that my happiness was largely shaped by outside forces, by my performance on a test or a line of praise in a book review or whatever form of feedback I was most interested in. But time has taught me that the pleasure of such things is incredibly ephemeral. (Sadly, the sting of criticism and failure lasts longer, which is bad for my happiness and good for my education.) And this has led me to conclude that the only kind of happiness worth pursuing comes from intrinsic motivation, from seeking out pursuits that will make me happy regardless of how they turn out. It's a cliche, but that doesn't mean it's not true: If you're focused on the imagined destination, you're probably in the wrong business. Life is about the journey, the process, the day-to-day. The only kind of happiness that lasts, at least in my little life, comes from the mundane pleasures of doing.

* Join the happiness conversation on Facebook and Twitter (@gretchenrubin).

Pigeon of Discontent:"I Don't Know How I Want My Home To Look."

2012 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2012 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2012 a happier year—and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge—welcome! Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we're also plagued by the Pigeons of Discontent.

This week's Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: "I don't know how I want my home I look."

I Don't Know How I Want My Home To Look.

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
7 books that changed the way I see the world.
Quiz: Is your workspace driving you crazy?
How to make yourself happier through "growth."

How about you? Have you found ways to figure out how you want your home to look, if you're not a person who naturally has a strong sense of that?

You can post your own Pigeon of Discontent at any time; also, from time to time, I'll make a special call for suggestions.

If you're new, jump in right now, sign up here. Studies suggest that by taking action, like signing up for this challenge, will help you keep your resolutions. For the 2012 Challenge, each week I'll post a video for you to consider, and you can check out the archives of videos here.

* I always love checking out my friend Delia's blog: Real Delia, about "finding yourself in adulthood."

* Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel. To get the weekly video by email, right in your email in-box, you can:
-- On the GretchenRubin channel page, after you subscribe, click "Edit Subscription" and check the box, “Email me for new uploads.” Or...
-- Go to your main drop-down box, click “Subscriptions,” find the GretchenRubin channel, click “Edit Subscriptions,” and check “Email me for new uploads” there.

To get the audio podcast of the video:
-- Log in to iTunes
-- Go to “Podcasts”
-- Search for “The Happiness Project.” Free, of course.

How To Clear Clutter and Be More Festive, In One Stroke.


Yesterday, I scored a rare victory: I hit on a solution that allowed me to satisfy several resolutions, all meant to make my home more homey, in one stroke. I was able to:

I laid the groundwork for this solution last year, and yesterday, I saw it pay off.

Last Easter, I had a brilliant idea. I realized that, of the dozens of stuffed animals that cram our shelves, many were bunnies. I went around the apartment and gathered up all the bunnies I could find, stuck them into a bag, and put them away with the Easter decorations. (We have enough stuffed animals that my daughters didn’t notice the mass bunny disappearance.)

This year, when I was filling in for the Easter Bunny on Saturday night, I unpacked the several bunnies and sat them around the room (which took five minutes). I was impressed; it was an easy task, yet the bunnies’ color and whimsy added a lot to the holiday atmosphere.

Well, when my daughters emerged to hunt for their Easter eggs, they got a big kick out of the bunny explosion. My younger daughter played with the bunnies all day, even though she rarely plays with the stuffed animals in her room. These old toys were new and interesting, because she hadn’t seen them for a year.

I was thrilled: I gave myself a way to get neglected toys off the shelf, make them fun for my daughters again, and add to the festivity in our apartment—in a quick, painless way. Last night, I stuffed the bunnies back into a plastic bag, where they’ll sit until next Easter.

Very satisfying.

Have you found any quick, easy ways to make the holidays more festive? I love festivity, but I don't love chores.

* When the Flames Go Up is an interesting blog written by a divorced couple who discuss the challenges of co-parenting after a split.

* Want a copy of my Resolutions Chart, to see how I organized it? Just email me at [email protected].

Secret of Adulthood: Succeed By Failing.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


* Want a copy of my comic, “Gretchen Rubin and the Quest for a Passion”? Email me at [email protected]

Gretchen RubinGretchen Rubin is the best-selling writer whose book, The Happiness Project, is the account of the year she spent test-driving studies and theories about how to be happier. Here, she shares her insights to help you create your own happiness project.

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